Labor outlines ‘Asian engagement’ agenda – October 2017

Filed under: Politics, Australian Politics, Foreign Affairs,

Federal Labor has unveiled a wide-ranging new policy for engagement with Asia, moving away from “gradualism” to an agenda of a whole-of-government deepening and broadening of Australia’s approach to Asia.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen spelled out the policy, dubbed FutureAsia in a speech to the Asia Society in Sydney.

Mr Bowen said FutureAsia placed a significant emphasis on encouraging Asian literacy among Australians, both at a schooling level and a professional level, fostering deeper understanding between Australia and the Asian region.

He said that a Shorten Labor Government would be open-minded in assessing, on a case-by-case basis, how Australia and China could best collaborate on the Belt and Road Initiative.

He said that while ensuring Australia’s national interest was served, a Labor government would explore how the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and China’s Belt and Road Initiative could best complement each other.

The Government has been far more cautious about its approach to the Belt and Road project and says Labor has gone too far in accommodating China’s ambitions.

Mr Bowen also said that a Labor government would recommit to the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper policy aim to provide every Australia student with the chance to study an Asian language – a project to be pursued through the Council of Australian Governments.

He said a Labor government would also:

  • establish a diaspora program for Asian diasporas in Australia and Australian diasporas in Asia, based on the US model;
  • provide $3 million to collaborate with the Australian Institute of Company Directors on a pilot program to mentor Asian-capable potential company directors to facilitate more Australians with Asian business experience attaining board directorships;
  • restore $1.5 million in funding cut from the Asian Education Foundation, promoting Asian studies in Australian schools;
  • pursue the establishment of an Australia-ASEAN studies centre, comparable to those in the US, Japan and Korea;
  • seek meetings between Asia-Pacific finance ministers in advance of each G20 finance ministers meetings;
  • establish annual meetings between Australian and Indonesian finance and trade ministers; and
  • implement annual reporting by the Treasurer to the Parliament on progress in implementing FutureAsia policies.

On the domestic front, Labor leader Bill Shorten says Australia is in danger of having growth without prosperity and that workers need a pay increase for the sake of the economy.

In a speech to the John Curtin Research Centre in Melbourne, Mr Shorten said there was a “creeping Americanisation of the labour market, where increases in workplace productivity and efficiency were not being shared with the workers who made them possible.”

He said over the past 10 years, real labour productivity had grown by 20 per cent while real wages had grown by 6 per cent.

Mr Shorten said that more job creation was not resulting in greater security or higher pay.

“That’s why, if you’re a business-owner in retail, you’re starting to get nervous about Christmas sales, and the most dangerous thing about economic insecurity is it can be infectious; fragility can be self-fulfilling,” he said.

“Low wages growth erodes confidence throughout the economy, not just in household spending. That’s why so many businesses – not just in retail and hospitality, realise they have a stake in lifting wages.

“For everyone’s sake – working Australians need a pay rise.”

His comments followed a decision by the Federal Court to uphold the cut to Sunday penalty rates ordered by the Fair Work Commission.

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